Tesla vs. the Auto Dealers: A Hilarious Update

Tesla Motors has faced significant regulatory challenges to its plan to sell its vehicles directly to consumers, rather than work with the existing system of franchised dealerships like other manufacturers. Tesla wants to retain control over as much of the customer experience as possible, but existing laws and regulations give the franchise owners a lot of clout.

The arguments for maintaining the auto dealers’ privileged status are highlighted in the current issue of Car and Driver by Ezra Dyer. Dyer’s article, “An Open Letter to Tesla, From Your Friendly Local Car Dealers,” is a lovely bit of satire that recalls Frédéric Bastiat’s "Candle Maker's Petition." Dyer’s fictional letter highlights the extremely flimsy case for forcing Tesla to share its business and profits with incumbent retailers.

Now, you may enjoy selling your cars with no middleman and just keeping all the money. But I ask, have you considered letting us have some of that money? It is our position that we would like some of the money. In return, we will have buildings with desks inside and some garage bays where we’ll do oil changes while customers watch The Price Is Right. What, you don’t need oil changes? Well, we’ll think of something along those lines. Maybe it’s like, electron refurbishment every three months. I just made that up, but it sounds right.

I’m telling you, Tesla, your customers need us. What happens when they’re driving their new Model S and a taillight goes out? Okay, yes, you’ll email them one to print on their home 3-D manufacturing apparatus. Tesla owners are pretty techy. What if that happened to a Lexus ES350 owner, though? Our research shows that Lexus owners visit the dealer an average of twice a month, for reasons including “bugs on the windshield” and “my grandson put the Skrillex disc in the radio and now I can’t get it out.”

Of course, Tesla CEO Elon Musk isn’t above using his political influence to favor his company either, but in this case they are clearly in the right. Just because General Motors decided that franchised dealerships would be a good idea 80 years ago does not mean that a company like Tesla be barred from their selling their cars in a different way today.